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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Be perfect, therefore...

I came across this image a couple of weeks before that made me both chuckle and shudder. It's interesting how well others sometimes critique Christians. However, it is difficult to find intelligent responses to contemporary Christianity, the kind that truly challenge us to get off our hindquarters and learn to reply. Anyway, here's the image:

Far too often, this is the aura we exude, so to speak. It is certainly much easier to tell people a list of reasons why they deserve to go to hell than to act with, for, and by the grace of God.

On another facet of this gem is the question of perfection. I have heard on multiple occasions from many Christians that God doesn't expect people to be perfect. But what exactly do we mean by perfection? If the argument were to be made from the Bible, there is an occurrence where Jesus tells his audience (or we trust the author on such a matter) that they should be perfect as God is.

Here is the text from Matthew 5.48:
ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι ὡς ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τέλειός ἐστιν.
Therefore, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
How do we deal with this? Again, there is the question of perfection. The word used here for perfection, τέλειος, has a plethora of meanings and a handful of related terms. According to BDAG (995-96), τέλειος can mean the following:

  1. pertaining to meeting the highest standard—of things, perfection; of persons who are fully up to standard in a certain respect and not satisfied with half-way measures perfect, complete, expert.
  2. pertaining to being mature, full-grown, mature, adult
  3. pertaining to being a cult initiate, initiated.
  4. pertaining to being fully developed in a moral sense—of humans perfect, fully developed.
(Brief note: I don't think we're dealing with the third sense of the word here.)

There is a verb related to this term, τελειόω, which can mean (1) to complete an activity, (2) to overcome or supplant an imperfect state of things by one that is free from objection, bring to an end, bring to its goal/accomplishment, fulfill (of prophecies), to make perfect (996).

Jesus, in Heb 12.2 is called the author and τελειωτής of our faith, that is, one who brings something to a successful conclusion (997).

Let's try a different translation of the text and see what it feels like:
Therefore, be complete as your heavenly Father is complete.
It could be said that this should be translated as perfect in the sense of flawlessness, which is certainly true of God if we are to believe him. However, completion appears to me to be much more within the realm of not only possibility (since we presumably cannot reach the level of flawlessness which God has), but also that of probability. While the creation may have started out in perfection, it has not reached its completion until Christ comes again.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.
Bauer, W., F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Text used was from NA27.

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